SHANGHAI • China is stepping up its scrutiny of online and mobile games, with the leading government-owned newspaper blasting Tencent Holdings' top-grossing Honour Of Kings for harming children in the pursuit of profit.
The People's Daily criticised Tencent's most profitable smartphone title in an editorial, citing it as an example of how addictive games spread "negative energy" and have even led to deaths.
The harshly-worded opinion piece came after China's biggest messaging and games company announced curbs on playing time for the minors among the title's estimated 100 million-plus monthly active users.
Video gaming remains at the core of Tencent, which is known for creating the all-purpose WeChat messaging service that has become a facet of daily Chinese life.
The self-developed Honour Of Kings has grown into a money spinner, a consistent chart-topper on Apple and Google app charts that is expected to account for more than half of Tencent's smartphonegaming revenue this year.
Shares in the company, the biggest component of Hong Kong's Hang Seng index, slid as much as 5.1 per cent on Tuesday, its biggest intra-day fall in more than a year.
"Whether they entertain the masses or hurt lives, when it comes to earning money versus the potential for harm, we have to be even more wary," wrote the newspaper, considered the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party.
Tencent, with its one-billion-plus active users, has become one of China's largest corporations, with dominant positions in social media and entertainment, areas that draw central government scrutiny.
Government media and sociologists have been critical of games since the era of Internet cafes, following reports of deaths after marathon gaming sessions.
Echoing their arguments, the People's Daily said game addiction warped traditional social values. It also carried a commentary on curbing game addiction from Legal Evening News, which said Tencent has not done enough.
Honour Of Kings is a hack- and-slash game in the same vein as League Of Legends, also from Tencent. The company cited it as one of the key titles that helped boost mobile-gaming revenue by 57 per cent in the first quarter.
Its popularity means the latest government push in China should not have a major impact on Tencent's revenue in the long run, said Ms Marie Sun, an analyst with Morningstar Investment Service.
"Honour Of Kings has a diversified player base, not only primary- or middle-school students. There are a lot of older players who will continue playing. And even younger players will figure out ways to keep playing the games."
Tencent did not respond to e-mailed questions but, in an interview posted on its WeChat account, Honour Of Kings producer Li Min said it was working on a system to protect juveniles from addiction.
Children aged 12 and below will be limited to playing an hour a day and banned from the game after 9pm. Those aged 13 to 18 will be limited to playing for two hours daily.